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The Arecibo Telescope and The Legacy That Remains

Valene M., journalist

Guarded by three concrete towers, admired by the 900-ton observatory that hung so precariously over it, and equipped with shining aluminum panels to stretch its 1,000ft diameter, the Arecibo Telescope was a colossal structure, both in physical size and historical significance. For 57 years, this giant, which was the world’s largest radio telescope until recently, proved itself an invaluable center for radio astronomy as it mapped planets, guided spacecrafts, tracked asteroids, and searched for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. This last August, its end began when one of 18 cables suspending its hovering observatory slipped and crashed into the panels at the edge of the dish. The damage then was not irreparable, but on November 6th, another cable snapped in half and gouged the center of the dish. With two cables out of commission, the platform above it was in danger of falling at any moment, making repair too dangerous to attempt. The National Science Foundation closed the dish permanently and prepared for its controlled demolition. Then on December 1st, the platform and the 900 tons of instruments that it held came crashing down, sealing the telescope’s fate.

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